The Oddity of the Pre-facto Quotation

Posted on October 6, 2010


I spend less time than ever these days reading about politics, not that I ever had a great interest to begin with, but I happen across the odd news report from Blighty now and again, just to stay knowledgeable throughout my exile from the Kingdom. I don’t know quite how long this particularly oddity that I’ve noticed has been going on, but I keep noticing in various media outlets: I’ll call it the pre-facto quotation.

As I was reading on BBC News about the Pope’s visit to the UK a few weeks ago, I came across this line:

But speaking in Birmingham, Mr Cameron will tell the Pope: “Faith is part of the fabric of our country. It always has been and it always will be.”

There was plenty to comment on concerning the whole bizarre visitation, as well as this rather hollow, meaningless quote itself, but a lot has already been said about both before now. Instead, I just want to focus on the words: “Mr. Cameron will tell the Pope…”

Will tell the Pope?

So, the BBC were not reporting on rumours and saying something like, “It’s understood Mr. Cameron will talk about importance of faith,” etc. They were quoting him, word-for-word, on what he was going to say in the future. I saw an instance of this again on the BBC a couple of weeks later, when the Labour Party chose a new leader and the BBC, having consulted their Minority Report-mutants I suppose, quoted us exactly on what Ed Milliband was going to say in his upcoming speech.

I decided to see if any other domestic media outlets had access to higher pre-cognitive powers and so Googled “Ed Milliband “will say””. Very quickly, I came across this article in the Independent (a UK newspaper), in which Ed Milliband was pre-cognitively quoted at length — whole paragraphs of his speech were written out for us to lap up before he had even spoken them. (And looking at the comments, it appears I’m by no means the first person to notice this, the first commenter on the article having picked out all of the psychic instances.)

How long has this been going on? Ruling out any kinds of extra-sensory perception, I can only presume that these speeches are leaked to media outlets beforehand, either complete or just in the form of juicy titbits to make us beg for more. But if this is going to happen, why bother giving the speech at all, if the key-points and sound-bites are already out? And what if a politician decides to change his words at the last minute (which, after watching The Thick of It, seems an unlikely idea, I admit)? Does the media outlet doctor their article to make it fit reality? It would appear not, seeing as articles like the Independent one above remain available in the pre-quotation stage. In which case, we are left with a quotations from someone floating around the public record that was never actually spoken in the first place. Think of the immeasurable damage that could be wrought, should I or anyone else quote Ed Milliband’s conference speech incorrectly.

And pity those reporters who are not ‘in the loop’, forced to do that thing where you wait, listen to someone and then write down what they have said.

NOTE: The author would like to acknowledge the influence of David Mitchell in the formation of this post of ‘angry logic’, but is in no way drawing comparisons to Mr. Mitchell’s genius.

Posted in: Off-topic, Opinion